Burke, the noted science historian, co-produced a television
series in 1978 called Connections. The program was reprised
in 1994 and 1997, with a 25-year anniversary show in 2004.
This fascinating series dealt with how a particular discovery
or instance created a thread of circumstances that produced
a final product or result much different from the original
concept. The chain of events as described sometimes took some
large artistic steps in putting together the thread, but the
main thrust was the exploration of technological change and
how it affected each generation. The device in this particular
newsletter "What Is It?" is a rather good working
example of how circumstances create a need and the function
and form follow.
By 1880, Thomas Edison had successfully created the commercial
electric incandescent bulb and developed the first distribution
power grid. Nikola Tesla then revolutionized electrical power
transfer with his work in AC power generation, creating a
dependable, stable and cheaper form of power than the DC systems
already in widespread use.
The competition created a strong demand for electric lighting
in private residences, which had previously consisted of a
few small wind-powered, battery-backed installations, usually
lighting just two or three 25-watt bulbs. With the advent
of reliable, less expensive home electricity came the need
to electrify homes, workplaces and, in some cases, large public
areas previously illuminated by other means. With that availability
of electric services, construction and renovation work had
another discipline added to the list of existing trades.